The Team It Takes to Help Families and Kids Find Their Way Back to God
By Kathy Ives
The best thing about being part of a multisite kids’ ministry team is the built-in support and fellowship with multiple leaders.
Most of our locations have their own kids’ directors, and together we make a fantastic and diverse team. Our directors are fully invested in kids and families, and they understand not only our church dynamics but the complicated nature of kids’ ministry. Together we discuss new creative ideas and solutions at regular meetings. On top of that, our newer directors learn from and are coached by more seasoned leaders.
As one of the kids’ directors at Community Christian Church, a multisite church in Chicagoland, I also appreciate that our church has a single, consistent goal: To reach people where they are and help them find their way back to God.
With our focus on this vision, and with our kids’ ministry team’s customary spirit of cooperation, we are able to wade through the unique challenges that we encounter as a multisite church.
Two “big ideas”—clarity and reproducing leaders—have helped us stay on track at Community.
The Need for Clarity
Clarity is one of the most significant challenges for multisite children’s ministry: clarity of vision, structure, process . . . pretty much clarity of everything. Clarity should include a clear plan and vision, and consistent communication regarding the plan. Clarity matters for many reasons; among them, here at Community, it helps us run efficiently and gives teams the freedom to help families and kids find their way back to God. Clarity matters in all churches, but I know from experience it is ultra-important in multisite environments.
Here are three significant things we’ve learned to do to sustain clarity:
1. Develop a clear reporting and care structure that is communicated to all teams. Communication is as important as the actual structure. We have struggled with this over the years. The structure may be in place but not everyone knows what it is. If you do not have clearly defined role descriptions or reporting/care structures in your kids’ ministry—from volunteers to pastors to central support—you will want to sort that out right away. If you are unsure whether your current structure works as it should, overcommunicate with your team until you have a better solution. It’s better to have a less-than-perfect structure than to have no structure.
2. Decide what needs to be the same at every location and what can be different. We created an official list of ministry constants; it’s a tool that includes these sorts of things:
• all locations use the same curriculum
• locations must have secure check-in for kids
• all locations use the same logos and graphics
A list like this is important. Multisite locations will look different to some extent. You and your team need to determine what is nonnegotiable for your ministry. At Community, we decided a family that attends any of our kids’ spaces should recognize they are at Community. At the same time, we want every kids’ ministry to be relatable and scalable based on location. Every kids’ director has latitude to be creative and make their kids’ ministry a custom fit for their location, so long as they stay within the agreed-upon constants.
3. Have a plan for communication and training. Our team of kids’ directors meets two times each month. It seems like a lot (and it is). These meetings are in addition to monthly all-staff meetings, coaching huddles, and location-specific meetings. It can become a large load on our kids’ directors. We know we are meeting-heavy, and I wish this could change, but any change that results in less clarity or throws our teams out of alignment would be foolish. Face-to-face conversations between locations are crucial for our growth, stability, and ultimately to our mission.
The Need to Reproduce Leaders
The second-greatest challenge for multisite children’s ministry is the need to reproduce leaders. Every church deals with a challenge I call “not enough” . . . not enough volunteers, not enough leaders, not enough staff. I hear this from almost everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a multisite or single-site church. The children’s ministry always needs volunteers and leaders. If you are launching a new site, you may feel the “not-enough” syndrome most acutely. Our teams that launch new locations are created from our existing locations. It is not unusual for your best and more dedicated leaders and volunteers to decide to join the launch team. That hurts.
We have identified two actions that help us combat the “not-enough” syndrome:
1. Communicate a bigger vision. I emphasize to my team members at every level that we are not just making Sunday happen at one site or at nine sites, we are reaching people who are far from God. Team members need to hear the why every week, and frankly, so do I. This is just another example of communicating vision and being clear about priorities.
Teach your team—and impress upon yourself—to live with palms wide open; encourage volunteers and leaders to go where God calls them to lead. We talk about and encourage this because we are on mission to help people find their way back to God. We believe it even when it temporarily leaves us shorthanded at one location. This is the big vision and it needs to be communicated all the time.
2. Develop a reproduction strategy. We have a system for reproducing leaders, and it is ingrained in all that we do. At Community, the reproducing big picture is defined as the “leadership path.” This path can take a person from apprentice to leader to coach to church planter.
The genius for kids’ ministry is that our leaders are well-equipped during apprenticeship so they can succeed in their role. Our leadership path is embedded into our reporting and care structure so it becomes second nature. Apprentices and leaders are coached tactically and spiritually. In this system we equip volunteers and work with them so they can eventually grow into leaders we can send to the next church location or leadership position.
To make this model sustainable, we continually fill our leadership pipeline with more apprentices who may move into leadership. Our leaders are trained in recruiting and apprenticing as a regular part of our leadership training rhythm. In addition to keeping the pipeline full, we believe this process moves people closer to God as they serve the world around them.
I am currently coaching Alex, a kids’ director who came up the leadership path. She apprenticed and became a kids’ small-group leader, then apprenticed again and became the kids’ director at one of our locations. She is still being coached and cared for as she learns to lead in her own space. I am sure when she started on this path, she was not planning a future in kids’ ministry, but as she moved along and developed, this became a clear choice for her. Because we were coaching and apprenticing with the bigger vision, not only has she gotten the opportunity to lead, but we have moved the mission forward.
If you are not in the habit of reproducing leaders, consider making it something you do as part of your ministry’s weekly rhythms.
Learn more about reproducing leaders in the book Exponential by Dave and Jon Ferguson.
Kathy Ives serves as kids’ ministry champion at Community Christian Church and also as Kids’ City director at their location in Naperville, Illinois.